We were never getting the college experience we expected


“Far fetched as my expectations were, none of us pictured freshman year this way, with me logging onto Zoom to attend classes, professors’ office hours, and student organizations’ meetings.”

By Shannon Garrido, Editor-in-chief

For those of you who spent too much of your childhood obsessing over Legally Blonde and Beverly Hills, 90210, like me, you probably had an inflated image of what college life would be like when you got here. I imagined sitting in giant auditoriums with eager classmates, listening to lectures from old professors. Movies and books convinced me that everyone I would meet in college would be a genius and that football would be the only sport people cared about. 

When I started high school, I liked to imagine scenes from teen movies where the hall was my runway. But when that didn’t happen, it wasn’t a huge surprise. I don’t consider myself a “glass half full” kind of gal, so expecting grimmer outcomes than my fantasies suggest is a given. 

Still, three weeks into my time as an Emerson student, I’m already taken aback. My expectations for what college life was going to be like could not have been further off from reality, although that’s mostly due to the pandemic.

I am part of the cohort of first-year students who elected to learn entirely online this semester. It’s a small subsect of the 17 percent of Emerson students who chose the virtual education option this fall semester. Far fetched as my expectations were, none of us pictured freshman year this way, with me logging onto Zoom to attend classes, professors’ office hours, and student organizations’ meetings. 

I found myself blaming my inability to cope with my schedule due to the unpredictability of online classes. Jennifer R. Keup, the director of the National Resource Center of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, found this is part of the “freshman myth,” a psychological phenomenon where new college students have overly optimistic expectations, which may include maintaining a steady study schedule. Many high school students overestimate their ability to adjust academically to college. Even for the majority of undergrads who don’t drop out their first year, this level of naiveness leads to disenchantment and a detrimental effect on not only academic performance but also social, personal, and emotional adjustments. 

The issue doesn’t lie with just me or the pandemic.

Most high schoolers have unrealistic expectations for college. In a normal, pandemic-free, world, 30 percent of college freshmen drop out after their first year, according to College Atlas. Many do so because college doesn’t end up how they expected, leading to academic or social frustrations. Now that the U.S. is battling this pandemic and suffering from one of the worst unemployment rates in history, this number is bound to increase. It’s no secret that being an active participant in-class activities, clubs and any other college endeavors is much more difficult through a screen. 

The glamorized perception of the college experience makes this condensed and socially distanced semester seem so much worse. It makes the rain seem like a hurricane. Yet, no matter how much we miss out on so much, we should also be aware that half of what we saw in “Pitch Perfect” wasn’t real.   

It’s almost comical how ingrained these perceptions are to students that we don’t even realize we have them. Those of us starting college online will most likely not receive the same kind of orientation, thus might lead to rude awakenings early on. This pandemic has completely changed our “firsts” for college—those initial days of orientation and moving days with our loved ones just aren’t the same. Most of us who were making the big move across state or international lines were preparing ourselves to leave our homes behind and become more independent. Now it seems that we are not “experiencing” anything. We are simply stuck at home submitting assignment after assignment.

Early intervention can serve as an important tool to adjust and set realistic views of the college experience. I suggest that all high school students applying for college should do more than just look up their major. Talk to current college students. The internet is full of resources about the authentic college experience. Prospective students shouldn’t walk in with their eyes closed. 

More importantly, remember that this is a chance to take care of yourself. With the changes college brings, there needs to be a balance between working hard and self-care. First years should take the time to reach out to others in their dorm, join campus organizations, and seek out resources that provide academic or personal support. 

College is never what we expect and the sooner we come to terms with this, the easier it becomes to succeed. And especially this year, it might be wise to keep our expectations lowered at all costs. 

Shannon Garrido is a journalism major from the class of 2024. If you would like to respond to this thought piece in the form of a letter to the editor, email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for style and clarity.